With summer over, more companies are mandating that employees be in the office for a specified number of days per week, and this time — with pandemic surges less of a focus — the employers seem serious about sticking to the policy. But workers who want more flexibility may have room to negotiate. Or, they can always quit.
While companies would like workers in the office more often, anywhere from one to five days, there are competitive realities to navigate. If one company is unwilling to be flexible, there’s another that’s likely to be, say human resources professionals.
“One of the biggest changes over the past few years is that fully remote work has grown, and compared to pre-pandemic, remote work policies are becoming much more common,” said Toni Frana, career services manager at job search website FlexJobs. “Most recent surveys and data collected show that both employees and managers agree remote work is beneficial and productive, and many people want to continue using it in some capacity.”
Here’s what you need to know to negotiate this untested career situation effectively:
Don’t be afraid to have the conversation
An August survey from Workhuman indicates that 48.8% of workers are headed back to the office full-time. However, there’s been considerable backlash about returning full-time, or even part-time, especially given higher gas prices that significantly increase the cost of commuting.
The good news is that amid changing workplace trends brought on by the pandemic, more companies are willing to consider remote work and workers shouldn’t be afraid to broach the topic with their manager. “Before, there was a reticence to have these conversations. The pandemic eliminated that because everybody’s asking,” said Steve Pemberton, chief human resources officer of Workhuman, an employee recognition and human capital management technology company.
Notably, a 2021 survey from FlexJobs found that 65% of respondents want to remain full-time remote workers. More than half — 58% — said they would “absolutely” search for a new job if they couldn’t continue working from home post-pandemic. Another FlexJobs survey, fielded in February and March, found that remote work was the second-most valued employee benefit, behind only salary. Coupled with the difficulty of hiring, companies have an even greater incentive to be flexible.
Even companies that initially said they wanted employees back five days a week have, in many cases, backtracked, said Annie Rosencrans, U.S. director of people and culture at HiBob, a human resources platform provider.
The risk of taking a hard line is pushing top talent out the door. “You have to be willing to lose people over it,” Rosencrans said.
Come prepared to the negotiation table
Before having a conversation with your employer, know your market value and potential options outside the organization, says Angie Bergner, vice president of people and business operations at Veris Insights, a human resources consulting firm.
With the job market remaining hot, albeit amid some signs of cooling, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employees remain in high demand. What’s more, there are a growing number of options for companies that offer significant flexibility. FlexJobs noted a 22% increase in remote jobs from the second half of 2021 to the first half of 2022, with several companies, including 3M, Airbnb and Reddit, now offering remote work as a permanent option.
Also determine how much work flexibility you are seeking, and what types you need or want. Are you looking for remote work, a part-time schedule, flexible hours, or something else? “It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition, so be prepared to be flexible and willing to negotiate this with your boss,” Frana said.
Even if a company at first is hesitant to negotiate, there may be other options. Perhaps there’s another role in the company that could accommodate all-remote work. Some companies may be open to this idea, especially considering that 67% of U.S. workers say they’d rather switch jobs internally than leave their company, according to a recent MagnifyMoney survey.
Or, if the company is taking a phased approach to bringing employees back into the office, you can request to be one of the last groups, Frana said. “This will give your company more time to see what is and isn’t working – and you more time to negotiate.”
Focus on the benefits
When speaking to their manager, employees should try to give concrete examples to state their case for greater flexibility. Explain, for instance, that you’ve been with the company for five years and your productivity has remained high, or better, while at home. Ideally, you will have supporting data to illustrate the positive boost on your productivity. If the long commute is an issue, you could also explain how having that additional hour-and-a-half to two hours each day will result in extra work time.
Employees who are hoping for more flexibility in their work week “must first show that they can produce the same or greater work output, and give specific reasons why the workplace environment contributes to the end result,” said Austin Flajser, president and chief executive of The Carr Companies, a provider of flexible, short-term coworking spaces.
An employee’s request to keep working remotely doesn’t have to be a long, extensive proposal, but it can help to put something in writing so it’s official. It also shows that you’ve put significant thought into the request, Frana said.
Be prepared for no
While many employers may be willing to be flexible, not every company will. Sometimes it can depend on the industry and the role within the organization. Trying to force IT staff to the office full-time is a losing proposition, Pemberton said. On the other hand, he knows of a biotech company that’s able to enforce its in-office mandate given the lack of comparable job options.
Asking for greater flexibility is always better than taking things into your own hands and flouting company policy, but if a company is unwilling to negotiate, employees may need to be prepared to look elsewhere.
“The employee needs to understand the answer could be no and be prepared to leave if flexibility is really that important,” Bergner said.